Girls Take Top Honors At Annual Mentor Program Dinner

Since the Big Sister/Little Sister Mentor program at the Preston Center of Compassion started 10 years ago from a $500 federal grant, it has expanded into a $100,000 program that teaches more than 60 girls in the Throggs Neck area about academics, hard work and self-respect.

The end of the year dinner and award ceremony for the program was held Wednesday, June 2, at Preston High School where more than 100 friends, family members and teachers gathered to celebrate the conclusion of another successful year. Although several people received honors for their contribution to the all-girl program, according to everyone who spoke, the real winners were the girls.

“To see their partnership is truly heartwarming,” Preston High School principal Jane Grendell said at the event after she received an award for her work with the program. “The honor really goes to the girls who did all the work.”

The mentoring program is a partnership between Archdiocese Drug Abuse Prevention Program (ADAPP), the Preston Center of Compassion, Preston High School, the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club and P.S. 72. It enables more than 30 high school girls from Preston High School to mentor about 30 middle school girls from P.S. 72 during the school year. The mentoring includes working on homework together and doing after school drama, arts and social activities. Since the program began, instructors and teachers have been brought in to expand the services.

“The whole idea is to show middle school girls life in an all girls high school where girls are leaders in academics and the clubs and sports,” Frances Maturo, executive director of ADAPP, said. “You look at this community and you see kids struggling in school, especially girls. But you also look and see an asset, and that’s the Preston school. And so we said, ‘how can we capitalize on this asset of college bound girls?’ This program was born out of that.”

ADAPP, which provides resources and information to children, parents and schools about leading healthy lives, was the lead agency for the federal Department of Education grant that funds the program. Maturo was honored at Wednesday’s event for her continued work to get funding for the program.

According to Sister Patricia Warner, executive director of the Preston Center of Compassion, the program has improved the lives of the girls through encouraging positive life-lessons.

“I have got better grades on my homework, and just being here I’ve learned to work better with my teachers and siblings,” said Gabrielle Martinez, a fifth-grader at P.S. 72 who is being mentored through the program.

For mentor and Preston High School sophomore Kachael Stocks, the name of the program is more than just a clever title.

“I always wanted a little sister, yet they always turned out to be boys,” Stocks said about her four little brothers at home. “It’s fun, especially if you find out you do have stuff in common, so then it’s actually like she’s your little sister.”

Two years ago the program was awarded a more than $100,000 grant to fund the project until 2011. However, because of the poor global economy and waning federal aid, the grant is ending after the 2010 season, Sister Warner said. While services may be affected, Sr. Warner plans to seek funding through additional grants and education agencies, and said the program will continue to positively impact students in the area far beyond next year.

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